Cover photo from startribune.com
The 3A title game was going to come down to one basic premise – who was going to control the line of scrimmage? Both the Pierz Pioneers and the St. Croix Lutheran Crusaders like to run the ball – a lot. It took an entire quarter to get going, but the Pioneers' lines took control and were the biggest key to the Pioneers' second 3A title in the last three years. They would go on to win the game 34-21.
Here are five reasons for the Pioneers victory.
Pierz was moving the ball in the first quarter, but it took until midway through the second quarter for the Pioneers to break through. When Alec Lochner, Zachary Traut, Brandon Dickmann, Taylor Marshik, and company got going, the cracks in the Crusaders' defense started to show. Late in the second quarter St. Croix Lutheran cut Pierz's lead to 14-7 and was starting to get some momentum. One play later all that momentum was gone. Jalen Jansen ran behind Marshik, Traut, and tight end Cohlton Boser for a 49-yard touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, the front seven of the Pioneers dominated –, especially in the first half. The only touchdown they gave up happened more because they were out of alignment more than they were dominated on the line of scrimmage. St. Croix Lutheran had their moments in the running game – mainly with Mike Stern -, but they were nowhere nearly as effective as they had been during the season. Marshik, Lochner, Carson Huls and Traut took away the dive and disrupted the Crusaders' option attack. They effectively ended the game on a 4th down stop. It was 4th and one at the Crusaders own 35-yard line. They tried to run the option, but Traut and linebacker Reese Kapsner blew up the option and forced a fumble – the defense forced five turnovers. Pierz recovered to give the offense the ball back with a two-touchdown lead with less than ten minutes to play.
One of the Crusaders' biggest weapons is wide receiver, Garrett Maag. His speed and big-play abilities were taken away by constant high low coverage from the Pioneer secondary. He did get behind the defense once or twice, but because of the pass rush even when he was open the Pioneers were able to prevent any big plays. The only time Maag hurt the Pioneers it got St. Croix Lutheran back into the game. The first drive out of the locker room St. Croix Lutheran was faced with a 4th and goal from the twenty. Maag got loose on a post for the touchdown to make the score 21-14.
After the Maag touchdown, the Crusaders forced a punt early in Pierz's next drive. A 50-yard punt from Preston Rocheleau flipped field position. The punt put set St. Croix Lutheran back at the 20-yard line. The defense took advantage. Luke Girtz forced a fumble that Boser recovered. It gave the ball back to Pierz who was able to put the game away when Kapsner ran into the end zone giving the Pioneers a lead they would not give back.
Like Eden Prairie, the night before the St. Croix Lutheran defense was on the field a long time –, especially in the second half. The Pioneers' offensive line took control in the fourth quarter, ran the clock and ground out first downs and didn't allow the Crusaders back into the game.